StreetFest draws solid attendance
New event brings carnival atmosphere to Saranac Lake
SARANAC LAKE — It was hot, humid and hopping Saturday for the inaugural StreetFest.
Traffic was shut down for a block of Main Street between Broadway and the driveway of the Hotel Saranac parking lot, and in the cars’ place were tents, tables and food trucks for vendors and activity booths. Strings of triangular flags hung over the road — handmade by festival organizers and teens at the Saranac Lake Youth Center.
You could get poetry written just for you, try circus tricks or making giant bubbles, get your face painted or Tarot cards read. Stilt walkers and costumed organizers roamed the crowd, saying hello. There was a magic show and a wide array of local musical performances.
Organizers had promised a carnival-like atmosphere, in the spirit of the village’s new “Decidedly Different” tourism motto, when they first announced the festival at a February village board meeting. And that it was.
It was also sweaty. The temperature hovered in the high 80s, but it was so humid that it felt hotter. Festival-goers sought out patches of shade, and the line at a frozen drink stand was steady. When people were asked what they thought of the inaugural event, most mentioned the heat first thing.
But they had lots of other things to say as well.
“I think the eclectic nature of the festival fits very well with the eclectic nature of the town, and it’s a nice juxtaposition to Winter Carnival,” said Kate Favaro, who grew up on Loon Lake but now lives in Norfolk.
“I’m sure as this grows it will get bigger and bigger, and that would be my hope, that it would attract a lot more attention,” said Favaro’s mother, Pat Lee of Loon Lake.
“I am always for closing down the street and opening it up in the way that they’re doing today with StreetFest,” said Chris Morris of Saranac Lake. “When I first moved back to town they did the Block Party, and I have fond memories of that because it was super-cool. I love Church Street in Burlington; I love places in New Orleans where the streets are closed off. I just think that vibe is a great thing. So I’m a big fan of it, and I hope that it’s successful and the response to it is good, and maybe next year it can go bigger and we can block off more street.”
Organizers say they hope to make StreetFest an annual event. For Chris Williams of Saranac Lake, that’s not enough.
“I think they should do it more often,” he said. “They should probably do it at least twice a month, (or) at least once a month. I’d like to see them open up more streets, get more vendors, and I think it would draw people from the smaller towns. It would be good for the city.”
Told about that comment, StreetFest co-organizer Shaun Kittle gave a sheepish, tired laugh.
“It’s a lot of work,” he said.
He and other organizers were pleased with the results, though. It was impossible to count overall attendance, but they estimated that at least a couple hundred people showed up in the first couple of hours and that the crowd held steady all the way from 2 to 9 p.m.
“So far, everything we’ve seen or heard has been overwhelmingly positive,” Kittle said. “I’m kind of touched.”
Asked about lessons for next year, the first thing he said was, “We need more volunteers. … We had eight or nine of us on the core team.”
Other takeaways were things that worked well.
“We learned that having a really good variety of things going on at all times was really good,” he said.
Also, he said, surprises worked well, like the unplanned appearance of Saranac Lake Surge baseball players in the StreetFest parade. He wants to have more surprises for festival-goers next year.
Colleen O’Neill, another member of the organizing committee, said the event’s original budget was $10,000, but it ended up being half that. They paid for it with local business sponsors and in-kind donations. For instance, she said, Casella donated garbage cans, and Boyer’s Septic donated porta-potties, both without being directly asked.
“We had all the enthusiasm in the world but no money,” she said.
Next year, she said, they plan to start earlier, get more sponsors and donors, look out for more local talent and hire more performers who “do fun and odd things.” This year’s magician was paid while the other performs received gift certificates donated by local businesses.
Kathy Shay of Ray Brook said she liked the music and the vendors, and her two daughters loved the Circus Tent.
“The face painters kids love always,” she said.
Jacob Stern said StreetFest was “awesome” but wished it had started earlier in the day.
“We were over here to get lunch, and we had to go over there to get lunch,” he said, pointing toward Broadway.
Erika Stevens said it was “a lot of fun, a nice mix of locals and tourists hobnobbing.”
“I think it’s fantastic,” Adam Klyczek of Jay said. “Especially since it’s such a small town, on a nice day you’re bound to bounce into at least three or four people you know and have a good conversation.”
Pete Nelson of Keene, one of the event’s organizers, spent much of the day on stilts, looking down on the crowd from on high. At other times when his feet were on the ground, he gave stilt-walking lessons to festival goers on shorter, more stable props — the double skates of the stilt world.
Summer Dorr of Saranac Lake, an English teacher at North Country Community College, spent most of the day behind a Poetry for Passersby table, delivering verse on demand, but during a break she tried out the stilts.
“It was wonderful,” she said. “It’s not something I woke up today thinking I would be doing. It should be on everyone’s bucket list.”